Table of Contents
The Truth About Doomscrolling 7
How Doomscrolling Impacts Our Lives 10
How to Break the Habit 26
Final Words 32
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Media psychologist Pamela Rutledge explains: “The tendency to doomscroll is a result of how the human brain is wired. Our brains instinctively pay attention to any potentially dangerous situation as part of the biological imperative of survival. Our brains are designed to constantly scan the horizon for potential threats. Since threats are more important to our survival than other information, we pay more attention to the negative information than to the positive. When there are no answers or conflicting answers, more information doesn’t increase our sense of safety, so we scroll in pursuit of better answers, and so on.”
It’s a seemingly never-ending cycle of negativity and unhappiness.
Mike Brooks, co-author of Tech Generation: has this to say about doomscrolling. “Fifty thousand years ago, when we were on a savannah, if we missed the bad news that there was a pride of lions stalking a watering hole, we could have been eaten. But if we missed the good news that a tree nearby was bearing fruit, we likely would have lived to see another day.”
So, if you’ve been consumed by doomscrolling, don’t feel bad. You’re certainly not alone. It’s human nature to pay attention to new information, especially if that information might help us respond to danger and ultimately, survive.
But the truth is, in today’s times, doomscrolling isn’t just unhealthy, it can lead to missed deadlines, incomplete tasks, and cost you valuable time that should be spent with friends and family.
The habit also isn’t an easy one to break, especially if you have a mobile device and are used to consuming news throughout the day via apps or favorite websites.
But thankfully, there are things you can do to quickly replace this toxic habit with ones that will add value to your life, and improve your mindset.
Before we get to that, let’s take a closer look at how doomscrolling may be impacting your daily life in ways you may not even be aware of.
How Doomscrolling Impacts Our Lives
Your brain responds to negative information by activating your “lizard brain”, particularly a structure called your amygdala, a collection of cells near the base of your brain.
This sets off your natural response to danger in your environment. You become hyper-vigilant and start scanning the terrain for threats.
In other words, you’re on high-alert and your mind and body are laser focused on potential harmful situations that may arise.
Your limbic system switches into fight-or-flight mode and sharpens your reaction times in an effort to save your life. Your pulse spikes, your body may grow stiff, and you aren’t able to relax.
“The part of our brain that governs doomscrolling is ancient,” says Dr. Aditi Nerurkar, a Harvard physician. “It’s an adaptive response to stress, meaning our species has learned to keep going and thrive and survive. Scanning for danger, looking around, making sure we’re all OK; that is a normal and healthy response to stress.”
But if you combine that evolutionary affinity for bad news with the marketing tactics that social media companies use to keep you hooked on their content, doomscrolling seems nearly inevitable.
Larry Rosen, co-author of The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, explains it this way:
“The problem is that tech companies have set up a system where you feel that you can’t stop: infinite scrolling, auto-play, and other tricks keep you glued to the screen. If you find a doom-and-gloom article online, and you want to continue in that vein, it’s hard to stop because there’s always more, and you don’t want to miss out.”
The pandemic, as Dr. Nerurkar explains, is a real time of acute stress. “What we’re doing is, we’re always scanning for danger.”
Our brain is already revved up into fight-or-flight mode by the global pandemic, so it’s only natural that we be on the lookout for even more danger on the horizon.
This preference for negative news has now become an example of evolutionary mismatch.
While it was helpful to our savannah-dwelling ancestors, nowadays the bad news comes from every corner of the globe and in reality, it often has little to no impact on our daily lives.
We simply don’t need to consume it. We choose to.
The physical reaction is real, though, and doomscrolling is an unhealthy habit to get into.
With the constant threat of COVID-19, the protective mechanisms of your amygdala can be switched on way too easily—and the hyper-vigilant behavior which results may become compulsive.
“Too much negative information biases our perceptions,” says Rutledge. “A steady diet of gloom and doom makes the world seem more dangerous and uncertain than it already is.” Brooks adds, “The more we doomscroll, the more worried we get, the more we want to look for things about negative news, and we keep checking, and it makes us worse.”
“Doomscrolling is not healthy because it can lead to a sense of helplessness and a sense that there is nothing effective to be done,” says Mari Verano, a marriage and family therapist. “Doomscrolling is looking repeatedly at ‘proof of the bad,’ which strengthens the brain’s negative bias.”
Doomscrolling has any number of negative consequences on your life, and wasting your time is the least of these.
Last July, the New York Times reported that Americans were spending nearly 50 percent more time on their screens than they had before COVID-19.
You could be getting a lot of work done in that time. This is also time you could be spending with family and other loved ones.
They’re your real support network, not social media or the internet. Whatever you’re searching for, Nicole Spector of Today says you might feel “a sense of helplessness and a sense that there is nothing effective to be done.”
All this time online is affecting our mental health, increasing our risk of stress, anxiety, and depression, as Today reports.
These negative reactions can then lead to heightened aggressive behavior and hostility.
And the effects aren’t just psychological. Spector also points out that physical reactions such as headaches, stomach problems, increased muscle tension, feeling tired easily, lack of appetite, trouble falling asleep, and poor sleep quality are also connected.
“Being constantly showered with fear-inducing content can lead to a variety of anxiety issues that can cause physical and mental discomfort,” says Dr. Pavan Madan, a psychiatrist at Community Psychiatry.
“Being exposed to excessive negative content can exacerbate depression in those predisposed to it. When faced with fear or threat, people may even resort to hostile or aggressive behavior. Staying up late at night while doomscrolling not only encroaches in your sleep time, but also makes it harder to fall asleep or have a restful sleep.”
“Anxiety and stress,” says Pamela Rutledge, “are the byproducts of uncertainty about the safety of the environment. Uncertainty triggers the desire to search for information to feel more in control. When we search for information in this state, we are particularly sensitive to distressing or emotionally threatening news. Rather than increase our sense of control, negative news validates our fears, heightens our anxiety, and increases our internal ‘need to know.’”
The sheer volume of the information out there works to further heighten anxiety, she goes on to state. It’s impossible to keep up with everything, and you’re not only anxious about the environment, but preoccupied with missing something that might be vital to your survival.
So, you keep looking and fall into a downward spiral often seen in chronic depression and anxiety. Looking for news in an environment full of negative content triggers anxiety.
Anxiety makes you want to know more so you’ll feel more in control. The need to know more makes you scan even more news, and around and around you go.
“This downward spiral,” Pamela Rutledge reports, “will only stop when we actively override our instinctive tendencies.”
Self-regulation and minimizing the time you spend consuming negative information is far easier said than done, and doomscrolling is especially difficult to control if you’ve been at it for a long time. It takes a good bit of determination, focus, and cognitive energy to overcome the instincts and emotional reactions that drive that type of negative behavior.Other Details
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